When it comes to education, students in the African-American and Hispanic communities are the least likely to examine the rewards that a science, technology, engineering and math (“STEM”) degree can provide. With the U.S overall poverty rate at 15.1 percent and the rates of the African-American and Hispanic communities at 27.4 and 26.6 percent respectively, a STEM education is positive option that would assist those students (and their families) from getting out of poverty.
Yet, statistics show that few African-American and Hispanic students are choosing to go to college and the ones that do end up attending, don’t appear to major in STEM fields. Last week, the Department of Commerce reported that in 2009 alone, 22 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 14 percent of Hispanics hold bachelor’s degrees. While 54 percent of Asians and 35 percent of non-Hispanic whites receive a college education. Also, when it comes to those African-American and Hispanic students that do graduate, approximately 17 percent of black non-Hispanic students and 21 percent of Hispanic students majored in STEM disciplines.
Especially since the potential earning power for some STEM grads can be six-figures or higher, with average starting salaries for engineers in Silicon Valley starting at $98,000 – the options for students would be basically endless. At the same time, efforts have been slow when it comes to improving the resources needed for STEM education in low-income school districts, which are primarily filled with high quantities of African-American and Hispanic students.
Which leaves those that graduate with non-STEM degrees out in the workforce in a horrible economy trying to make their way or relying on unpaid internships. However, students that come from low-income families, pursuing an unpaid internship is more than likely not a feasible option.
At the same time, there is concern that if students were pushed to pursue only STEM pursuits forsaking the arts and other non-STEM disciples, that students would be trained to be drones instead of innovators.
So what is the educational holdup? Well first, many of the nation’s public schools are not preparing students to be innovators and with No Child Left Behind still in effect, schools are only looking to teach what is needed for the tests and little else. Not to mention the basic annihilation of arts education in schools, which have been felt the most in minority communities. While, we shouldn’t discount the importance of STEM classes, we also must focus on providing an all-inclusive learning environment for today’s youth, so they become well-rounded individuals. In order to enable African-Americans and Hispanic students to be better prepared for jobs as innovators, improving STEM education is not the only thing that matters.
Cynthia Wright is an avid lover of all things geeky. When she isn’t freelancing, she can be found on her blog BGA Life and on Twitter at @cynisright.